How To “Vacation” Every Day

I walked in the door and the sandy, muddy shoes would tumble to the floor. The carpet—soft beneath my bare and tired feet—felt absolutely luxurious. I immediately started to run hot water in the tub while peeling off the rumpled clothes of the day. Sinking into the warmth that soon enveloped this weary traveler, I felt both cleansed and relaxed at once.

My toes wandered to the spigot, playing peek-a-boo above and beneath the water. Staring at and beyond the mirrored reflection of my brightly-polished toenails was my only entertainment … and it was more than enough. “Ahhh sweet, sweet vacation”  I thought to myself and closed my eyes while the stress of the days leading up to these precious few just melted away.

And then it occurred to me. This isn’t some fancy jacuzzi with high-powered jets and a special tray for trashy novels and fruity cocktails. It was a standard, run-of-the-mill bathtub… and I have the exact same one at home. AND, I just happen to have hot water and carpeting too. So why don’t I indulge in this most glorious and peaceful of practices more often?

That’s a really good question. Why don’t I?

And for that matter, why don’t I also…

Drive with the sunroof open and the windows rolled down? Enjoy more wine with my meal? And take my time while eating it? Listen to my favorite CDs instead of the crap they offer up on the radio? Go for a walk and leave my watch at home? Eat ice cream from a sugar cone? People watch … and then laugh at them? (Oh wait, I already do that.) Discover the beauty in the common intricacies of nature? Put my feet up, sit still and turn my face toward the heat of the sun? Set down the remote and pick up a book?

I guess I think I’m in a hurry. There’s always too much to do and not enough time to do it. I couldn’t dare pause progress in order to do such frivolous things. But here’s the truth … there IS time, and I CAN do these things—I just don’t arrange my life in such a way as to make them a priority. For some reason, Americans tend to believe that we must take time off from work, spend money, pack our bags and disappear to some far-flung corner of the globe in order to truly “get away from it all.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with THAT. I happen to adore far flung corners of the globe.

HOWEVER… a few weeks ago, while on vacation, I learned that many of the BEST things… many of the most treasured things were the things I could have been doing all along… If only I made the time.

Silence is Golden

“Joanna is an excellent student. She completes all of her schoolwork on time, is polite, plays well with others and keeps her desk neat and tidy. However… SHE WILL NOT STOP TALKING!!!”

This is often how the “progress reports” from my elementary school teachers read. Of course they didn’t quite word them that way, but amidst all of the “Joanna-is-doing-everything-well” reporting was—without fail—some mention of my amazing gift of gab and how it would be desirable if I were to get it under control.

Hello, my name is Joanna and I am a talkaholic. However, I have recently discovered the true value of Silence. Not the I’m-taking-a-VOW-of-silence kind of silence… (sorry everyone) but the “Silence Is Golden” kind of silence. We’ve all heard the famously-quoted proverb a thousand times and although the origin of the phrase remains a mystery—for one who is addicted to words and sounds—those 5 syllables carry a tremendous amount of weight.

Let me share with you how I stumbled across this treasure. In an effort to achieve some semblance of sanity, I have made it a personal goal to get more sleep. I’ve been going to bed earlier and relaxing by writing in my journal or reading rather than watching TV. But the TV is usually STILL on in the background. I don’t know why… for some reason I find it comforting to hear the familiar voices of 4 friends (let’s call them Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer) sitting around a coffee shop or a tiny New York apartment bemoaning the minutia of their existence. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The other night I decided to turn the TV off and read in total silence. And although it was a bit foreign to me at first, it was completely wonderful! So wonderful, in fact, that it felt absolutely luxurious! Who knew silence could be this enjoyable? Besides my family, boyfriend and friends. For a moment, I put the book down and just listened to the nothingness that surrounded me. I took a deep breath, soaking in as much as possible as though this sheer state of nirvana could be stored. I knew that all too soon—with the nagging of the alarm clock—this beautiful quiet would be shattered by the noise of life in the digital age.

Now, I’m not a twitterer, which is surprising given how much I like to talk, write, converse, chit-chat, chew the fat, stay in the loop, laugh, giggle, whisper, yell, shout, sing and just be heard in general. But with the help of twitter, not to mention all other forms of social media, smart phones, iPods, radio, cable and the internet… not only are we in touch with one another 24/7… we are surrounded by constant sound as well. So it’s perfectly understandable that the absence of noise was such music to my ears!

Every evening across America, it is not uncommon for the typical household to have the TV (or TVs) blaring and computer glowing while talking or texting is taking place. We can literally be catching up on the news, watching football on ESPN and the dramatic story of a woman scorned on Lifetime… while simultaneously communicating with multiple people in multiple ways. We can be texting, chatting, instant messaging, emailing, writing on walls, poking, tagging and twittering all at once. And this is what we are doing with our DOWN time… never mind what we encounter during the workday.

It’s no wonder we’re all stressed out and hopped up on antidepressants. And don’t be salty with me for saying that. (Which kind are YOU taking?) If you aren’t taking anything yet—give it time. At the rate we’re going… you will be. Unless, that is, you take the time to stop and listen… to the sound of silence.

A Tiny Taste of Fame (Just small enough to choke on)

“So this area is called the ‘Dashboard’ and this is where you pull all of the strings to create the pages that people see.” I explained to my mother who knew very little about blogging and cared even less. Then I showed her around my blog and eventually over to the WordPress homepage and the Freshly Pressed section.

Pausing ever-so-reverently on the Freshly Pressed area. My eyes glazed over like Homer Simpson’s when he sees a beer or a donut and I dramatically drew a circle in the air around The Page with my index finger and with an equal amount of drama said to her: “Mother, THIS is where I can only hope to end up some day. THIS is the goal. THIS would be THE place to be.”

A day or two later, I did the same thing to my boyfriend.

I can be a bit of a drama queen.

My fledgling web log was just 10 days old. I had 13 subscribers and anywhere from 40 to 80 hits a day. And then last Friday something amazing happened. Going to my blog to check the stats (as I had begun doing religiously) hoping each day that the numbers would climb, I told myself not to expect much. I literally SAID to myself: “Don’t be disappointed if the numbers are low. You are NEW at this and it will take time for people to discover it.”

But the numbers weren’t low. They were skyrocketing! And I immediately thought there must be something wrong with WordPress and that this had to be a mistake of some kind. I knew enough to be able to check where the majority of hits were coming from and I saw that it was the WordPress homepage. So naturally I went there. And that’s when I saw it. My baby. My blog… right there in the middle of the page. The picture, the name…  I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing.

It was for real.

I called my boyfriend. I called my parents. I emailed my friends. I wanted to run yelling through the streets: I’ve been Freshly Pressed!! I’ve been Freshly Pressed!! I did refrain, however, for fear of looking like a lunatic since I’m pretty sure that a large slice of society probably would assume that “Freshly Pressed” is something akin to water-boarding. But on the inside I WAS running and yelling.

Since it was a Friday, I was fortunate that my blog stayed on FP for 3 whole days (plus one more if you count the day that it slides back to the “earlier” site). Four whole days of extra exposure to the world and readers and hits and comments and spiking stat charts and emails and “likes” and subscribers! I had never experienced anything remotely like the rush I got from it. By the end of the 4th day, I was exhausted. I looked like a junkie in desperate need of a fix. My eyes were red, I was cranky from very little sleep and I just generally looked like shit. It was then that I realized how HARD it is to stand under the white-hot light of overnight celebrity. No wonder so many people crack under the pressure.

It was going to be short-lived and I was aware of it every second of every day. And it was wearing me out. Staying up late to watch the numbers, answer comments and emails, read other people’s blogs and nurture new virtual friendships. I kept thinking: I’ve got to stay after this or it will all slip away! Soon the clock will strike midnight and my carriage will turn back into a pumpkin, my gown to rags and my fine white horses to rats… I will be the little-ol’-graphic-designer-from-Ohio-who-writes-for-a-hobby once again. I will be just another regular gal doing the 8 to 5, eating frozen Lean Cuisines and watching Hoarders with my cat.

What can I say? I did the best I could for 4 days. My family and boyfriend—God love ‘em—did their best too. My boyfriend asked me daily what my numbers were and whether or not I was getting enough sleep. He and my parents reiterated how proud they were of me. They graciously listened as I told them about some of my new online connections. My parents showed their friends my blog while at a dinner party instead of passing around pictures of grandkids.

On Tuesday morning I logged on to my computer and  much to my chagrin, the numbers were abysmal compared to the day before. Back to normal I guess. My moment in the spotlight had expired. Like the rollercoaster that is 60 seconds of sheer unpredictable terror and thrill and then comes screeching to a halt… The ride was over. I then glanced at the clock: 15 ‘til 8… I grabbed my purse, my keys, my coffee … and headed to the office.

As I pulled out of my driveway I heard the faintest voice as though over a muffled loudspeaker say: Please exit quickly to your left in order to make room for the next passenger.

Hmmm… That’s New…

I went shoe shopping at lunch the other day. I am in need of new black pumps, as my mother is calling for her very-cool pair of Nine Wests back. And even though possession IS 9/10ths of the law… this weekend she successfully guilted me into returning them.

I find a cute pair… not as cute as the Nine Wests… but definitely doable. However, while hiking up my pant legs to check out how awesome these shoes will make my calves look, I noticed something peculiar. Something that wasn’t there the LAST time I checked out my calves beneath cruel retail lighting. There was a small purple vein, about an inch long, snaking it’s way across my calf muscle. The vein was faint and probably not noticeable to anyone but me… but it was NEW! And while gently running my finger over it I actually uttered aloud: “Hmmm… That’s new.”

Now, I have OTHER purple veins on my legs. Not many, but a couple that are remnants from an unfortunate horseback riding incident that took place when I was 19. But I know exactly what both of them look like and where they’re located. In other words, I have taken full account of these blemishes… and made my peace with them. But this one… THIS one, does not have an “unfortunate horseback riding incident” on which to lay the blame. THIS one, showed up unannounced and unwelcome.

I suppose that eventually, I’ll make peace with it as well. After all, what other choice do I have? I am not exactly one of the “Real Housewives of Carroll County” who has her plastic surgeon on speed dial and then disappears for a few days away at “The Spa” and has magically done away with any and all imperfections.

Given the fact that I am indeed, NOT one of these women… this newest dermatological development really got me thinking about some of the other “new” things that I have noticed recently…

  • Last weekend, in a photo taken at a Pirates / Cubs game, I noticed that the skin around my eyes wasn’t nearly as taut as I remember it. It was softer and a little droopier and, well… let’s be honest… it was the beginning of Chick’s Feet (Crow’s Feet’s hideous, younger cousin). UGH.
  • Another photo that was short-listed as a potential profile pic was swiftly rejected when I became aware of the fact that someone had maliciously drawn lines across my neck.
  • LAST week… Feet tossed over the back of the couch, sporting a pair of boxer shorts… I was disturbed to find that when I moved my legs down from the back cushion… the skin did not initially want to go along. It protested by forming a bunch of teensy little wrinkles. Instead of snapping back like it used to… it reluctantly slid back into place… eventually.
  • By 5:00 I no longer appear “rested” like I do first thing in the morning. Rather, I look as though I’ve contracted a healthy case of swine flu.
  • The right side of my neck and shoulder now stiffen at the slightest hint of stress…
  • AND I suffer from some type of unspeakable digestive disturbance if I eat anything after 10 pm.

The French philosopher Voltaire once said: “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.”

How comforting.

I’ll try to remember that the next time I look in the mirror, squint my eyes to look more closely and say to myself: “Hmmm… That’s New.”

Everyday Courage

So I’m sitting here thinking about courage. In part because I’ve always admired it in others, but mainly because I find myself in desperate need of some lately.

No, I’m not charting a course to sail around the world, or scaling Mt. Everest or taking up spelunking (not that I haven’t considered it) I am just finding myself in short supply these days. However, let me be clear about one thing though… Oddly, I don’t seem to need courage for Life’s big things… these I’ve always sort of handled… well, better anyway. It is the everyday things that get to me.

At first I considered compiling a list, just for me, of ALL of the courageous things I’ve done for as long as I can remember… These would include, but are not limited to: Wrestling into submission a 250 lb. college football player whose sole responsibility was to try and drown me during my lifeguard certification test… and prevailing! Traveling via train across the country by myself when I was just 18, climbing 14,000+ ft. mountain peaks, learning to SCUBA dive in the open ocean and taking up kickboxing to ward off fear.

Perhaps thinking back on those “Gut Check” or “Swallow-Your-Fears-and-Dive-Right-In” experiences would help me summon the courage I need to tackle the regular stuff? And you may be wondering what IS the regular stuff? The “regular stuff” consists of (but is not limited to) accepting myself for who I am. Right now. Today. Letting things go. Forgiving a slight. Forgiving a grudge. Forgiving myself. Holding my head high in the presence of that person who “just doesn’t like me.” Smiling brightly when on the inside I am crumbling. Doing more for others. Doing the right thing. Telling the truth. All the time. To everyone. About everything. Being a better daughter, sister, aunt, girlfriend, co-worker, team-player and friend. Occasionally it is even as simple as getting out of bed in the morning and taking care of business when all I want to do is pull the covers over my head.

So why do these smaller, everyday things require so much more courage than literally diving off a pier into unknown waters? I haven’t quite figured that mystery out yet… perhaps I never will. But I suppose if I can continue climbing up the side of a mountain long after my body and my lungs have said “HELL NO”…  I can certainly get out of bed each morning and tackle the everyday things that life will inevitably toss my way.

I Hate Camping

I remember the day with startling clarity. It was the day that I finally accepted my disdain for camping. I was in the mountains of New Mexico, gazing out across a picturesque valley with a deep blue lake surrounded by lush pine. The water was sparkling in the sun like a thousand white diamonds while a cool breeze caressed my face… and I was elbow-deep in nasty, tepid, grey water… washing dishes.

“I think I hate camping.” I said to my friend who was sunning herself on a nearby picnic table. Now, to convey the actual weight of this statement coming out of my mouth you must understand something. My ex and I owned a camper. A REAL camper, loaded down with all of the trappings for camp life… from the fireside cookware to the pump-it-yourself travel toilet (which never got used anyway because no one wanted to clean it). And the friend that I was speaking to was one-half of the couple that we always camped with.

“Seriously?” she asked me. “You don’t like camping!?” Her voice raised an octave and cracked as though I had just confided in her that I was, in reality, a Russian spy working undercover in America’s desert southwest.

“Yes. Yes I do.” I said matter-of-factly with a growing air of confidence. “I mean, look at us. We are on VA-CA-TION (said extra slowly and loudly for maximum emphasis and effect). We took actual time off from work to come all the way up here, set up camp, don filthy flannel and sport greasy hair only to do DISHES in nasty water, sit in the dirt and stare at one another. IT’S WORK. It’s all work (again with the slow yelling for effect). And I can be doing this WORK at home. Except that at least there I have hot running water and an actual toilet that flushes and clean, soft things in which to wear, sit and sleep on!”

She sat on the picnic table staring at me in utter shock and disbelief while I poured out my dirty little confession. I didn’t care if she disagreed. I didn’t care if I offended her. It was my moment. My epiphany. WHY must I love camping? Who decided that humans should just LUUUUUUUV camping? Because it sure as hell seems like everybody does. Or at least that’s what they tell you. It’s what they want you to believe so that you will think they’re this outdoorsy, tree-hugging, adventurous individual capable of just “goin’ with the flow” and bein’ “one” with nature… Well, it’s a load of crap. And if they think it, they should just admit it. Like I did on that day.

It was a thing of beauty I tell you. Making peace with the fact that I did NOT enjoy this thing that I was supposed to enjoy and not being afraid to say so.

So today, for anyone reading this, I’m going on public record and proclaiming that I DON’T LIKE CAMPING!!! Why should I set up an entire HOME outdoors when I already have one indoors? Why should I wash my dishes in gross, tepid water, carry a damp roll of toilet paper under one arm and a shovel under the other while trotting off to the bushes to “do my business,” sleep downhill with my head or other critical body parts on a rock (when tent camping at least), schlup around camp all dirty and smelly with nappy hair and covered in scratches and bruises from aforementioned bush-peeing or rock-sleeping? Hmmmm?

I love to do all SORTS of outdoorsy things. Fishing, hiking, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, SCUBA diving… the list goes on. In fact I’ll try just about anything… once. But when I am done with my adventure for the day, I want to order dinner from a menu and for someone else to set said dinner on a warm plate in front me. I want to sleep in a fresh bed surrounded by endless, fluffly layers of down-filled goodness. I want a hot shower and clean underwear. I don’t think this is too much to ask.

In one way or another, if you are going away somewhere, camping or otherwise, you are most likely taking time off from work, packing your things, and spending money. Therefore, why shouldn’t my precious time and money be spent paying SOMEONE ELSE to do the dishes?

Filling the Pages

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Inspiring words, no matter your age. And although I cannot yet say that I am examining my life from the perspective of 20 years ago … I believe I am far enough to say that I wholeheartedly agree with him. Ideally each one of us would look back on our lives and feel no disappointment whatsoever. But realistically, when we do look back—if there is any disappointment present—it most likely lies within the things we did NOT do rather than those we DID do.

The opportunity we did not explore… The path we did not take… The dream we did not chase. The place we did not go… The thing we did not say…

On the night before I went off to college, I sat on my bed journaling. I was thrilled about all of the things that were in front of me. It may sound cliché, but I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. The world was my oyster. Places to go, people to meet and experiences to have. Trying to capture my excitement in ink, I wrote the following: “I feel as though my life is rolled out in front of me like a warm and welcoming stretch of highway. I cannot wait to see where it will lead! Soon these things will be over and the pages of this journal will be full and everything will be a memory.”

I am twice as old today than I was when I penned those words. I am grateful that I grasped that concept when I was only 18 because those very pages are now full of some awesome memories. But I just can’t believe how quickly they filled! As we age and the restrictions of responsibilities creep in, it becomes more challenging to adopt Twain’s philosophy, but it’s not impossible. I believe that his words are not only for the young. As long as we’re breathing there are pages left to fill. Starting now… Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Where There’s Smoke…

While furiously wiggling out of my skirt and heels and into jeans and a pair of snuggly Uggs… I heard it. And I knew what it was. I simply did NOT have time to deal with it. Not yet. I had two hours of daylight left and a two and a half hour drive ahead of me. Oh and did I mention that it was a two and half hour drive toward an I-need-a-break-or-my-head-is-going-to-explode weekend? Yeah, well it was. It was imperative that I leave right THEN… noise or no noise. It was absolutely critical that I hop in my car and drive 75 mph toward 48 hours of spending time with my man, sleeping as long as I want to and indulging in more than a few tall glasses of beer.

The sound to which I am referring (but chose to ignore) was the annoying “my-battery-is-low-you-irresponsible-bitch” chirping sound that smoke detectors make to alert the resident that their untimely death-by-fire is imminent. So the battery is low in one of them. Big deal. There are two others in the house and I’ll change it when I return home early Sunday evening fully refreshed and renewed.

It was a decent plan—had it actually worked out that way. Instead, I return home a little too late and a little too tired from a little too much fun and all I want to do is relax, watch some crappy re-runs and go to bed. Naturally, I had completely forgotten about the smoke detector’s demand for juice. But it wasn’t long before I was reminded.

Reclining in front of aforementioned crappy re-runs, I heard it. Alright, which one of you is unhappy? I was within ear-shot of all four of the potential offenders. There are three smoke detectors and one CO detector. Muting the TV and getting up from my chair, I stand in the middle of the house and listen—ears tuned like a bat. Ah-ha! It is the one in the kitchen! I run to it and stand beneath it waiting for one more chirp just to be sure. And I DO hear it again… but not from THIS one. Damn. I think it’s the CO detector in the stairwell. I run to the stairwell where I am in sight of both the CO AND the upstairs smoke detector. I will surely be able to identify the malcontent this time. And there it is again! But it isn’t coming from EITHER ONE of these. Damn. There is only one left, but it is in the basement and it CAN’T be that one because the sound wouldn’t be nearly as loud as it is. And I have now wasted 20 minutes on this frustrating and obviously futile effort. I will just have to dismantle ALL three of the suspects if I am ever to find peace.

Carrying a dining-room chair around the house to use as a stool (I’m only 5’2”) I rip each one from its resting place and pry out the batteries. When all is said and done my kitchen counter looks like Ted Kaczynski’s workbench, but at least now I will have some peace and quiet. However, while getting ready for bed… I hear it AGAIN. It was faint, but unmistakable. By process of elimination and demolition, it has GOT to be the one in the basement. Standing in the basement now and staring up at the OBVIOUS offender, it looks back at me… silently.

So I make a call to my father, who yes… happens to live right across the street. The chirping continues UNTIL my father arrives in his pajamas… at which point that vexing chirping completely STOPS altogether. Of course it does. He checks the only one left—the one that I am positive it CANNOT be: the basement one. Aaaaand just as I suspected, that one IS working. He tests it and points out the little red light that is blinking on and off to demonstrate that it is indeed in working order. Damn.

There was nary a chirp the entire time he was in my house, doing a complete walk-through and taking inventory of my destructive quest-for-silence handiwork. Of course there wasn’t. He leaves. I stare at the remnants of my “safety devices” scattered across the kitchen counter, daring them to chirp at me again. I know the batteries have all been removed, but at this point, what else could it be? Can they continue to chirp WITHOUT their batteries like a chicken continues to run around after its head has been chopped off? Maybe they can. Out of desperation, I decide to have a conversation with the whole obnoxious gang as they sit there smugly—mocking me. And I ask them calmly to shut the hell up and assure them that they will ALL receive stupid new batteries tomorrow whether they need them or not. They remain silent. Perhaps I have been heard.

In a tense quiet I go upstairs and crawl into bed, praying that I have had the last word. I pull the covers up to my chin, close my eyes and begin drifting off to sleep… when all the sudden, piercing the darkness is—you guessed it—a singular, taunting chirp. Disgusted and defeated, I put a pillow over my head and decide that they may have won this battle… But tomorrow I will win the war.

Wanderlust

I climbed up the ladder to the loft above my bedroom in search of a place to store a journal I had recently filled. I opened the cabinet doors, slid a couple of boxes out from their resting place and peered inside, unsure of their contents. Suddenly a clear plastic storage bin caught my eye. I put down the cardboard box I was rummaging through and switched my attention to this container. Removing the lid I quickly realized that this one was a treasure trove! It was filled to the brim with old photographs, journals and letters from my high school and college days.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, this was quite a find! Inching closer to the light from the plate glass window, I situated myself high above the world below and dove in. It was so entertaining to flip through the photos and read the words I had scrawled 18 years ago on the yellowing pages. It felt a bit surreal awakening so many dormant memories from my more “adventurous” days.

Of course I found a lot of journal entries comprised of the usual hopes and dreams of an 18 year old girl: Where would I end up? What kind of job would I have? When would I fall in love? How would we meet? What would he be like? Would I ever get married? Would I ever have children?

But even more interesting than those things, was a recurring theme in my writings. I was obsessed with escaping my small Ohio town in search of adventures and experiences in the wider world. My mom used to tell me that I had “wanderlust,” and I believe she was absolutely right. The dictionary defines wanderlust as:a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about. And I certainly had that! There were so many fascinating places I wanted to see and interesting people I wanted to meet… and I couldn’t seem to begin this wandering soon enough!

Fortunately, from the time I turned 18 I was able to do just that. I had the unique privilege of working on a beautiful Colorado Dude Ranch during the summers while in college. And I lived and worked in New Mexico for 12 years after graduation… allowing me to experience a completely different culture from the one in which I grew up.

During those 16 years I was fortunate enough to climb 14,000 ft. mountains—literally standing on TOP of the world! I spent time rafting white water rapids and exploring miles and miles of untouched Colorado wilderness both on foot and on horseback. I learned to fly fish in the Tetons and Yellowstone … catching, cooking & eating my fair share of indigenous trout. I learned to scuba dive… soaking in some of the Caribbean’s most active and colorful reefs. I plunged into the freezing-cold waters of Lake Tahoe and experienced the lengthy but rewarding struggle of pulling King salmon out of the open Pacific (throwing up the entire time).

I searched for banana slugs while feasting on the sweetest wild berries in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and took a 6-passenger sea plane into British Columbia where I participated in the carving of a community totem pole with native people. In New Mexico, Arizona and Texas I blistered my feet backpacking into (and out of) some deep canyons, visited various haunts of the legends of the “Old West,” herded cattle on horseback, learned to shear a sheep, brand a steer, breed a horse, and cook a rattlesnake. And my ultimate claim to fame: I once took first place in a grape-stomping contest at a local vineyard.

Please don’t misunderstand my intention for sharing these things. I didn’t list them to boast. I am proud of doing them. I am thankful that I got to experience those adventures. But mentioning all of these things helps me emphasize how totally mystifying I find the place that I am in right NOW. Today I come home to a peaceful old house with creaky-but-charming wooden floors. If there’s a foot of snow of the ground, I can simply pull on some boots and walk next door in my pj’s to enjoy a hot meal with my family. In the summer I can watch lightning bugs from the porch swing, enjoy a burger off the grill and sing obnoxiously during the 7th inning stretch. In the fall I witness the world around me turn a thousand different colors while tailgating before a big football game.

I’m not scaling mountains, carving totem poles or herding cattle. But strangely—unlike the person I was 18 years ago—I am not restless anymore. I still have that same wanderlust and I know I’ll still travel and seek out adventure, but these days I seem to find infinite amounts of joy in watching fluffy, white flakes fall from the night sky and in laughing with childhood friends over a cold beer.

Life is such an unpredictable journey. I tried so very hard to get out of Ohio—and away from home—only to discover years later that “home” is exactly where I now CHOOSE to be. Sometimes you have to surrender to your wanderlust and strike out on your own in order to travel back around and discover the fact that you’ve come completely full circle.

“On the Side” a.k.a. High-Maintenance

The 1989 hit movie When Harry Met Sally is a beloved favorite for men and women alike. It was then and remains today a spot-on, hilarious narration of the intricacies of the male/female romantic relationship.

A couple of weeks ago while I was folding some laundry, it came on the TV and of course, for probably the 18th time… I watched it. And once again, for probably the 18th time… I laughed. Only this time I laughed at something I’d never really noticed before, but has since become a regular source of conversation and comedy in my own relationship.

Early in our relationship, my boyfriend and I watched this movie together. One night, months later, when we went out for dinner he called me “Sally Albright” after I finished placing my order.

At first I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about—Sally Albright. Sally Albright? First of all, WHO is Sally Albright and WHY exactly, did he think that I was SHE? Then he reminded me of the following scene from the movie when Sally Albright and Harry Burns sit down to eat at a diner for the very first time:

Sally: I’d like the chef salad please with oil and vinegar on the side, and the apple pie a la mode. 

Waitress: Chef and apple a la mode. 

Sally: But I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top. I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of the can, then nothing. 

Waitress: Not even the pie? 

Sally: No, just the pie, but then not heated.

OK. So maybe Sally was a bit, shall we say, particular about how she wanted her meal… but come on, she’s paying for it. But what I call “particular,” most men call “high maintenance.” And such was the case with Harry / my boyfriend.

Of course, what I want to know is: What is wrong with wanting things “on the side?” Salad dressing on the side… sour cream on the side… guacamole on the side… extra avocado slices for your sandwich on the side… extra limes wedges for your margarita on the side… an extra shot of tequila for that same margarita on the side? Since when did asking for anything “on the side” turn into being “high-maintenance”? To answer this question, I’ll refer to a scene from later on in the movie:

Harry: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance. 

Sally Albright: Which one am I? 

Harry: You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance. 

Sally Albright: I don’t see that. 

Harry: You don’t see that? Waiter, I’ll begin with a house salad, but I don’t want the regular dressing. I’ll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. “On the side” is a very big thing for you. 

Sally Albright: Well, I just want it the way I want it. 

Harry: I know… high maintenance. 

And there it is. The male take on “On the side.” But I still don’t see the problem here. This is, after all America, and if we CAN have things “on the side,” then why are we considered “high-maintenance” just because we ask for it?

There are things that I prefer a certain way… and if, by requesting them, I am not placing anyone in harm’s way… then I just don’t see the problem. For example:

  1. I like to sleep with four, fluffy, down pillows. But only at night. During a nap, I prefer ONE down pillow and a body pillow.
  2. I like to wrap up in soft, fluffy blankets and it doesn’t matter where or from whom I have to steal them.
  3. I like so much ice in my drinks that with every sip I get the sensation of licking a glacier.
  4. I’ll only drink the orange juice that has NO pulp in it (served over ice).
  5. Individual foods on my plate must NOT touch one another. Unless it is Mexican food. And I prefer to eat one food at a time around the plate… usually in a clockwise direction.
  6. I feel it is perfectly appropriate to call the front desk and register a complaint if my hotel room does not look exactly like the one on the website.
  7. I feel it is equally appropriate to request that compensation be made for the aforementioned false advertising. And that said restitution ought to be delivered in the form of additional fluffy, down pillows.
  8. I place all of the items on my desk at 90 or 45-degree angles and specific items must be parallel or perpendicular to one another or I cannot get any work done.
  9. I must arrange my highlighter pens according to the colors of the rainbow.
  10. I like all of my picture frames to be turned at exactly the same angle on the desk / shelf / table / dresser / entertainment center… and just because I can immediately, upon entering the room, determine that one of them is a degree or two off and I cannot sit down or relax until I fix it…

    Do these things make me high-maintenance?

Sally Albright. It is a nickname that my bf still calls me to this day. And although I have absolutely NO idea why… What else can I say?

I just want it the way I want it.